Excerpted from Report of the General Board, United States Forces, European Theater.

Mission: Prepare report and recommendations on the provision of liaison aircraft to ground force units and for HORSEFLY control of fighter-bomber close base in support missions.

Liaison Aircraft Definition

The term liaison aircraft is applied to an unarmed and unarmored single engine airplane characterized by low horsepower and light weight. By design this type of aircraft is particularly well adapted for observation, reconnaissance and general utility service behind the front lines or when unopposed by hostile aircraft or antiaircraft fire.

Of primary importance to the ground forces is the ability of this type aircraft to operate from relatively small, unprepared fields or roads. Minimum maintenance requirements are an outstanding feature of liaison aircraft.

Two models of liaison aircraft were widely used in the European Theater. These were the L-4 type, used generally as the organic field artillery aircraft; and the higher powered L-5 type, with which the Army Air Forces liaison squadrons were equipped. Although obsolete, a small number of L-1 aircraft also were used on occasion.

Employment of Liaison Aircraft in the European Theater

Field Artillery Aircraft (Organic Assignment). In addition to the primary function of locating appropriate targets and adjusting artillery fire, it was anticipated that other missions for organic field artillery aircraft would include: (1) Reconnaissance of position areas and march routes, (2) Security patrolling, (3) Camouflage checks, (4) Obtaining information of friendly and nearby hostile forces, (5) Maintaining liaison for control of march columns.

Attached Army Air Forces Liaison Squadrons. Providing the theater and task force headquarters and ground force units with general messenger and courier service in areas behind the front lines of friendly troops… within the limitations of aircraft, personnel and equipment available in the liaison squadrons: (1) Messenger and courier service, (2) Transport and ferry service for ground force personnel and equipment, (3) Visual reconnaissance, (4) Light photographic reconnaissance and other limited photographic missions, (5) Column control, (6) Check upon air defense measures, such as camouflage, concealment, and dummy installations, (7) Artillery adjustment when required to supplement organic
field artillery liaison aviation, (8) Limited air evacuation when required.

Actual Employment in Field Artillery

Army headquarters used artillery liaison planes for, (a) Supplementing the attached Army Air Forces liaison aircraft, (b) Courier service, (c) Transportation of personnel, (d) A replacement pool for aircraft for the lower echelons of the army.

In the corps these aircraft were used in addition to their primary artillery functions as in the army, and
for the following additional missions: (a) Maintaining liaison between widely separated units, (b) Permitting commanders to make terrain studies from the air, (c) Taking oblique photographs, (d) Providing tracking facilities for friendly anti-aircraft artillery units, (e) Controlling motor units on main routes, (f) Furnishing intelligence information and location of friendly units, (g) HORSEFLY activities.

In the division the artillery aircraft were used, in addition to their primary function for: (a) Reconnaissance and terrain studies, (b) Command and staff reconnaissance, (c) Liaison, (d) Column control, (e) Photography, (f) Transportation of key personnel, (g) Courier service, (h) Radio relay, (i)Wire laying, (j) Emergency resupply, (k) Evacuation, (l) Camouflage checks.

Actual Employment in Attached Liaison Squadrons

Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces used its attached liaison squadron for transporting key personnel and liaison officers, and to maintain a courier service between its forward and rear echelons. Communication Zone Headquarters also required frequent air transport for its key personnel. Army Groups used their augmented squadrons for the transportation of key personnel and courier runs, but considerable command reconnaissance and the transportation of liaison personnel also were normal activities for the squadron. In addition, the amount of official mail being carried to and from the armies of the group was such that, the Signal Section’s aircraft quota was, of necessity, consistently the largest.

Army Headquarters employment of liaison aircraft was more diversified than in the higher echelons. In addition to transporting key personnel and couriers, the use of liaison aircraft for prompt reconnaissance of routes of communication proved to be of inestimable value. Emergency resupply within the armies, particularly of medical items, was made by the liaison squadrons in several instances.

The corps used their liaison aircraft for missions similar to those prescribed by armies but, despite the dearth of aircraft, made considerably more use of them in the tactical sense. Fast moving columns were patrolled; friendly and hostile troop dispositions, troop movements, and traffic were reconnoitered. Road, railroad and bridge reconnaissance was pursued. Artillery smoke was adjusted upon targets which were to undergo fighter-bomber attack, and the results following such attacks were reported. Aircraft of the L-5 type also were used to direct fighter bombers to their targets on close cooperation missions.

Horsefly Control of Fighter-Bombers

HORSEFLY technique may be defined as the procedure whereby a forward controller, flying in a liaison type aircraft equipped with VHF radio, communicates directly to pilots of fighter-bomber and other high performance aircraft and assists them in locating other close-in targets upon which ground force units desire an air strike, or targets of opportunity, the attack of which would aid the ground units.

As a result of this study, it is recommended that: (a) The HORSEFLY technique of control of fighter-bombers in close-in ground attacks be developed and expanded as an additional method of forward control of fighter-bomber aircraft in attack of targets close-in on the front of ground force units, (b) The liaison type aircraft be used where the situation permits for HORSEFLY control of fighter-bomber close cooperation missions, (c) The liaison aircraft to be used in HORSEFLY operations be provided from the two L-5 type aircraft recommended to be furnished the division in Part One of this study, (d) The necessary VHF radio sets to equip these aircraft be furnished from appropriate sources, (e) The liaison aircraft used in HORSEFLY normally be piloted by an assistant to the tactical liaison officer attached to the division from the tactical air command, with an organically assigned division liaison pilot substituting when occasion requires, (f) When practicable, a ground force officer familiar with details of the ground situation and desires of the ground force commander, accompany each HORSEFLY mission.

Appendices include Confidential, Restricted and Secret messages from 1944–1945 during the deployment and assignment of liaison aircraft.


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